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Report from the West Bank: A Close-up Look at Controversy Surrounding Israel's Security Barrier - 2003-11-23


Israeli government continues to set up a barrier of security around the West Bank. When completed it will stretch some 245 kilometers and will separate the West Bank from Israel. VOA’s Jeff Swicord reports on the structure's impact on Palestinians who live in the village of Abudeze.

It’s a typical morning commute for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem going to work in the West Bank where part of the controversial fence or wall that the Israeli government is being constructed around the West Bank. Khalil Tafaalji, Director of Mapping and Survey at Orient House and a former technical advisor at the Camp David and Taba Peace negotiations, describes the problems of one man as he tries to get to work.

“This man, he has his home is here in Jerusalem. Now to go to his job or to work on the other side, he [has] to jump to the next side. So it's new that you want to jump…concrete or illegal way to jump from the checkpoint to another place to arrive directly to his work or to his home.”

Along the wall is the new municipal border between the West Bank and Jerusalem. There is a checkpoint about a kilometer up the road. Jumping over the fence and crossing the border here is illegal. If caught by the Israeli security forces these people could be put in jail or even shot.

Before the recent bus bombing in Jerusalem the Israeli government decided that building a fence here around Jerusalem was too controversial. Now they believe it is essential for their security.

“Obviously the Palestinians don’t like the fence because for them it is preventing them from having what a lot of them see as a strategic advantage against Israel, the ability to strike at our population, the ability to create terror and horror among our population, which they believe would be a way of weakening Israel’s resolve and getting us to make more concessions in the peace process," said Daniel Seaman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "That is not going to happen. In two ways: First off they are not going to be able to destroy the resolve of the Israeli people, and second, the fence is going to go up, they are going to have to look for other ways, essentially, peaceful ways, of reaching an agreement with Israel."

But, the Palestinians see it another way. Kaled Al Azze, a member of the Palestinian National Congress, says if the issue were security they would build the fence on Israeli land, not Palestinian. He says the placement of the fence increases Israeli land inside Jerusalem by 10 percent. And, at the same time decreases the Palestinian population inside the boundaries of municipal Jerusalem.

“This is Palestinian land," he said. "And the Israeli’s in that purpose, they want to cut Jerusalem’s borders from the West Bank. And because of what they are doing right now we are going to loose at least twenty kilometers. This fence will go down to Bethlehem. So it means we will be isolated totally from our deep land.”

Mr. Azze says that building the wall here is also a violation of previous Israeli/Palestinian agreements. “You know Jerusalem is an issue for negotiation and according to the agreements the Israeli’s should not make any changes in the infrastructure on the ground in the areas that are under negotiation,” he said.

Sharon spokesman Daniel Season disagrees. “Not necessarily ..can be interpreted...and I understand that the Palestinians are interpreting it as such. But, fences can be moved," he said. "They can be erected, and they can be removed in the same way. Lives can’t be restored. And so our major goal right now is trying to put up these fences to prevent terrorists from coming into Israel to save lives. If at some future time, now we won’t be able to move to the other aspects of the road map or of the process with the Palestinians unless violence ends."

The fence under construction in Abudese will separate townspeople like Mosa Abu Helal from agricultural land on the other side of the hill. “The fence is exactly in front of my house and I can not go to my land where I have olive trees and other crops,” he said.

Mr. Sharon spokesman responded to such concerns by saying, “Prime Minister Sharon promised President Bush that as much as we can take into consideration the human aspect of it. But if to put this person’s fields around his house we would have to move the fence several kilometers, it would be. Every kilometer I believe is several million dollars. It would cost us. Therefore, we try to be as considerate as possible but there comes time where the economic aspect is important. And as sad as it sounds, but the problem is not the fence, it is the defense -- defense of our population.”

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